Kimi Shelter (still, in my book, the greatest stage name in rock ‘n’ roll) might have been rollin’ stoned (see what I did there?) when she wrote the line: “Ain’t no use in burning witches when we die, we’re twice as vicious.” Nonetheless, there’s every reason to be scared.
There’s a chance that she means it.
Starbenders have apparently released 26 albums and EPs in eight years of their existence, but I hadn’t seen them until last year when they opened for their fellow genre benders, Palaye Royale, earlier this year.
They were superb. I was moved to call them the best rock ‘n’ roll band out of Georgia since Biters, but nothing prepares you for this. So let me try.
Back in 1989, Alice Cooper released “Trash” and became a hero to me (a position he still occupies), but at the age of 13 in the summer of that year, I had no idea that it was, essentially, all about sex. And mostly the filthy kind.
Fast forward to my late 40s, and I get it. So does Shelter. Not for nothing do they cover “Poison” here, and not for nothing does Shelter own it.
She’s got a way of singing that makes everything sound like it’s aching with lust. “Sex” (“I don’t want to know your name, I just want your thrust” goes the hook) is clearly explicit, but it’s an example of what the band does so well.
They don’t sound like anyone else. Veering from some ’80s underground club to ’80s arena rock, sometimes in the same song. Kriss Tokaji is a formidable guitar hero, but they can unsettle too. “We’re Not OK” lurks with menace, and even the lighter pop of “Cherry Wine” isn’t without a darker side.
There’s an element of Starbenders that should still be at the original Woodstock. “Seven White Horses” (perhaps the most sexually charged) swirls with a psychedelic air, but – contrary to what they are – they can pull with an energy, and drummer Emily Moon absolutely thunders her kit on “The End Is Near.”
And so it goes on a record that is essentially one big mixtape. “Blood Moon” gets its metal groove on, “If You Need It” is a modern arena filler with a giant swagger. Listening to the likes of “Marianne,” it’s tempting to think of them as some kind of nu-wave band – think Blondie – but the cover of the album casts them as somewhere between Kiss and Faster Pussycat. “Midnight” suggests any of those is correct.
There’s still time for a theatrical ender. “Say You Will” revels in its own sense of grandeur. It underlines the skill level here.
You’ve heard all the influences on display here, I would argue, though, that you’ve never heard them packaged quite like this. “Take Back The Night” is sensational. And somewhat scary.